Ever since Ozzy Osbourne first bellowed the immortal words “Finished with my woman ‘cause she couldn’t help me with my mind” mental anguish has been an integral part of doom metal’s aesthetic, Indeed some of the defining music of the genre has been about dealing with issues of personal loss and depression, rather than about devil worship or witches. When you listen to Warning’s Watching from a Distance or Solitude Aeternus’ Into the Depths of Sorrow, the weight of human emotion is as heavy as the riffs, and for a lot of fans this is something that has always given doom a musical edge over the myriad of other subgenres.
Arkansas’ Pallbearer are one such band who have consistently used their music to explore topics that are firmly rooted in the real rather than the supernatural. Since their 2012 debut Sorrow and Extinction (which was partially inspired by the death of vocalist/bassist Joseph D. Rowland’s mother) they have used their soaring brand of epic doom to explore the human soul at its lowest ebb, while also signposting a path for redemption.
While their 2017 album Heartless was a brilliant exercise in doom metal maximalism, new album Forgotten Days finds them stripping things back a little (if only a little) and in the process they’ve produced one of their best pieces of work to date. The opening title track establishes both the tone and the overarching theme of the album perfectly. Starting with discordant feedback, it soon erupts into a suffocatingly heavy groove with lyrics inspired by vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell’s grandmother and her struggle with Alzheimer’s. This is a visceral album, focused on self-reflection and the nature of memory, which sees the band working in altogether heavier (in all senses) territory than on Heartless.
That’s not say that Pallbearer have reverted to genre clichés; there’s still plenty of the deft touches here that takes their music a cut above. ‘Stasis’ starts off with a widescreen feel thanks to its elegant lead guitar and powerful vocal, before descending into semi-psychedelic repetition, in-keeping with the songs theme of a life standing still. ‘The Quicksand of Existing’ is a more driving slice of heavy rock with a militaristic beat and a catchy if downbeat chorus, while album closer ‘Caledonia’ (the connection to Scotland is unknown) finds the band channelling elements of Alice in Chains-style grunge alongside space rock synths to create something completely unique.
The albums centrepiece, the 12-minute long ‘Silver Wings’ is the closest the band come to the panoramic sound of Heartless. It’s a slow burning, evocative piece of work which beautifully showcases Campbell and Roland’s vocal harmonies, while also incorporating elements of prog, inspired by the likes of Pink Floyd and Rush.
The thing that’s always been Pallbearer’s greatest strength is their songwriting. They are a band with a singular ability to write dramatic, occasionally over the top, music that always maintains its core of human emotion. To not put too fine a point on it, this is doom with soul, and on Forgotten Days there’s no sign of the band letting up in passion or quality. This is an essential album for any lover of heavy music, not just the diehard doom ‘heads.
Forgotten Days is out now via Nuclear Blast and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader